Solutions to complex issues: U of S EWB hosts multidisciplinary case competition

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In many cases, finding solutions to complex problems requires an ability to see all sides of the bigger picture. The Multidisciplinary Case Competition, held by the University of Saskatchewan Engineers Without Borders on Mar. 11, aimed to do just that by bringing together students from different disciplines.

EWB, a Canadian organization with chapters in universities across the country, aims to create global change by targeting root causes of inequality and poverty and by investing in local initiatives. This approach to social justice is part of a growing movement focused on empowering partners in international communities, standing in solidarity with these partners and working on sustainable change. Tackling problems such as these requires creativity and a multi-faceted approach.

Curtis Theoret, a recent graduate in environmental engineering and computer science, has been a part of the U of S EWB chapter for several years and explained the approach that the organization takes to solving global issues.

“EWB is all about empowering local leaders in developing communities. Instead of coming in saying, ‘We have all the solutions, here’s some water wells and we’ll just do stuff for you’ … No, [EWB plays] a support role to people who are already doing great work in their own countries,” Theoret said.

The U of S EWB chapter’s case competition aimed to bring together students from multiple disciplines to collaborate in groups and come up with solutions to a complex scenario. Each group had one week to come up with a solution for the case study, which involved oil transportation, a scenario that reflects real-life projects where conflicting interests are unavoidable, much like the recent issues of a proposed carbon tax or the Dakota pipeline.

Participating students were asked to come up with creative, critically thought-out solutions that addressed various aspects of the issue, such as stakeholder needs, long-term impacts, social impacts and the environment.

According to Theoret, a complex problem requires a solution that considers all aspects.

“The whole idea behind EWB is that it takes a multidisciplinary approach to understand complex issues like poverty,” Theoret said.

In the past, the U of S chapter has held an annual gala with a supper and presentations from leaders in different industries, but this year they wanted to take a new approach.

“This year we decided to do something a little different, [something] that engages the undergraduate student body better, so we decided to do a case competition [where] we wrote up a case and had a couple workshops for the participants,” Theoret said.

The change also aimed to encourage students from other disciplines to participate.

“Engineers Without Borders is a deceptive name. It’s got the word engineer in the title so everyone assumes it’s for engineers, but actually, if you look nationally, it’s only about 60 per cent engineers,” Theoret said.

The winning team of the case competition was Prairie Thunder Consulting, whose members included students in renewable resource management, environmental engineering and chemical engineering.

“The winning team had the most diverse background and this played to their advantage. They utilized their diverse skill set to generate a solution to the case study that covered the environmental, social, technical and economic aspects,” Theoret said, in an email to the Sheaf following the day of competition.

The campus chapter of EWB is open to all students at the U of S, and Theoret encourages students from all disciplines to check out the chapter.

“If things like trying to look at [a problem from] a systemic level — [for example] how do we eradicate poverty globally — if you’re interested in that, please come join EWB. We want you,” Theoret said.

He explains that EWB is constantly evolving and searching for the best possible way to accomplish their goals, and that this aspect of the organization has made him want to stay involved.

“The reason I’ve stuck with EWB for so long is because I love the philosophy of the organization. It’s very about, ‘Okay, we’re going to go do our best, learn from our mistakes and just iterate that continually.”

Teevin Fournier

Photos: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor